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How does your child's age affect custody?

There are several details and factors that go into creating a child custody agreement during a divorce, from the child's best interests to each parents' caregiving responsibilities.

Children are always the priority in custody cases, so many parents might wonder: how much influence can children really have on their child custody arrangement?

A child's preference can impact the custody arrangement, but not by much

Until children reach the age of 18, when they are legally an adult, they are usually subject to the custody agreement. Family courts evaluate many variables for this agreement when determining what is in a child's best interests, including:

  • The age and health of each parent
  • The age and health of the child
  • The child's need for stability
  • Each parent's past responsibilities and care for the child
  • Each parent's future ability to care for the child
  • The relationship each parent has with the child

The courts will sometimes also consider the child's wishes. Most family courts in North Carolina begin child custody cases with a presumption of joint custody, but they might still take into account what the child says regarding which parent they want to live with.

However, this factor greatly depends on the child's age.

Younger children have less influence

Naturally, the wishes of a younger child do not have as much of an impact on the custody arrangement. This is primarily because a child's age is usually directly correlated with their maturity and capability to make an informed decision in their own best interests.

More often than not, young children make decisions based solely on their emotions at the moment. This is not inherently a bad thing, but it does not help them consider critical elements of what is best for them long-term.

North Carolina family courts may place more emphasis on a child's wishes when they reach the age of discretion.

What is the "age of discretion?"

When someone reaches the age of discretion, the law determines that this person is generally mature enough to:

  • Make a rational decision
  • Exercise specific rights
  • Be held responsible for certain actions

In North Carolina, that age is 10-years-old. Family courts may consider the child's wishes more when they reach the age of 10, but that decision still heavily depends on the family's greater circumstances. Even if a child is past the age of discretion, their wishes might still not reflect their best interests. In that case, family courts will still always put the child's best interests first.

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